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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Soul To Sole...

Jack Frost nips at the corners of our living room's Surround-Vision Imax Windows. The "movie" is Winter, and will run for another four or five months. I've seen it before, know how it ends, so pardon me if I take leave in the middle.

We arrived home on the heels of a storm that left Lovely Ouray blanketed under 18 inches of snow... most of which is now neatly shoveled aside in order to make room for more. 

Dawn breaks with the gift of alpenglow, a subtle and short-lived pink-on-snowcaps to celebrate the first day home. Embers that flicker and glow in the hearth warms my back, while I gaze through windows that frame postcards suitable for Christmas. I am reminded that its time to string lights... 

Remnants of a Super Moon as it sets over Zion

I'm always struck by how enormous our little Mine Shack feels after spending a few months in Camp Goldie.

The annual transition from Zion's relative warmth to Lovely Ouray's cold is abrupt. Unperturbed, Bobbie layers up and heads out for a long walk in the snow. What's it been,12 hours? I'm not there yet. Besides, I just shoveled a dump truck sized load of white plague from the drive and deck, wearing sandals! Without saying a word, Bobbie makes a mockery out of my facade of toughness. "Have a good walk," I say, as I climb aboard the exercise bike's Seat from Hell. I punch in 90 minutes (groan), set resistance at 13 (ugh), and face the cowardly indoor version of self-flagellating my way up The Monkey.  

I am absolutely—more-or-less—committed to living a four-season lifestyle, even if it kills me. Why? Because uniformity is boring. It takes a brutal winter to truly appreciate the apogee of joy summer brings. If it's true that absence grows a fonder heart, then doesn't it follow that it is autumn's brevity that breeds anticipation? 

Oh sure, I'm known to whine about the cold. But deep within the gray matter between two frost-bitten ears, I realize that Colorado winters make summers sweeter. Without at least a "taste" of winter, I think I'd feel like "something" was missing. Yeah, I'm probably not the best candidate for a Hawaiian lifestyle :). 

Now back to a few Canyon Reflections from this year's stay near Zion... starting with the "bad news." 

This year we really felt the crush of tourism, from Springdale to Zion's main corridor. It was far more crowded than previous visits and, for me, made a negative "Park Experience." 

Since the year 2000, Bobbie and I have spent many lovely autumns in Zion, most back in the good old pre-tram days. Now those people-movers run beyond capacity, leaving sightseers and sweaty hikers swaying nuts-to-butts in the isles and hanging on for dear life. Comparing Zion's "before" to "now" is probably not fair. I mean, what wasn't better in the "old days?" That said, our "Park Experience" in "the corridor" was more Disneyland than National Park. I could almost feel John Muir rolling over in his grave at the disparity between what he envisioned for our National Park System versus the reality of where it is now, and, more importantly, where it's headed.

If your goal is to get away from it all, find peace and quiet, Zion's "Corridor" is not a good choice anymore... especially on weekends and holidays. With exception to weekends, crowds and traffic used to taper off after the first week in November. This year, however, traffic continued to back up (as in "stalled") from Zion's gates to mid-Springdale. And parking? Ha! Forget about it. 

This year the park's turnstiles are expected to push a half-million visits in November, which feels crowded. Imagine 3 to 4 million people a month during June, July, and August. (FYI, January is the least visited month). 
So why do we keep going back?

Perhaps H. G. Wells said it best, nature's inexorable imperative is to adapt or perish. Over the years, as trails in Zion's "Main Corridor" became more and more thronged, our pleasure meter dropped to near zero. Even though it's still just as beautiful today as ever, too many people spoil the experience, if not the purpose

We decided that it was time to either move on or "adapt." Study of a detailed map revealed vast areas to explore away from the "drive-by-ers" and day-hikers. Thus began remote off-trail explorations... backcountry canyons, slick rock, and slots galore. Since then, we (and a few gang members) continue to be amazed at all the new finds and glory that lies in wait off the beaten path in Zion. 

Now, if you are one of those people that think Rangers at the visitor's center are going to hand over all the Park's secrets, I got a few watches you might be interested in. Forget that. The most fun to be had is often when you don't have a "plan" or a destination. This year we had a blast picking random canyons and going as far as possible. Dead end? No problem, just go to the next canyon, then the one after that, and so on. Trust me, you will never be able to explore all the canyons and grace Zion has to offer, and the best part is that it can still be done alone if you are willing to make the effort. 

Here are a few samples of what's to be found beyond the well-trammeled paths... lonely random canyons that hold a high probability of wet feet, bloody shins, scrambles over choke-stones, and a little sole smearing on vertiginous slabs of rippled red sandstone.

What happens when you misstep on the mountain...

A Mexican Spotted Owl... wonder if Trump will deport it???

"Smear" the mountain... Soul to Sole

Bobbie, enjoying Zion's "solitary confinement."   

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. Thoreau


  1. Well Mark you have helped the OFM make a big choice with this blog entry. It again has become my life's goal to make the Grim Reaper be breathing hard and sweating profusely when he finally catches me. Thanks.

    1. OFM
      Even in old age, our bodies will still rise to the challenges we present them. The problems begin when we accept their "complaints." The goal is to stay one step ahead of ole "Grim," and have fun doing it :)

  2. So my take is that you, Bobbie, "invitees" and others are doing what you are supposed to be doing...out and about. Not IN the "corridor", but OUTSIDE the corridor. Look at the boundaries of Zion. They go WAY beyond the "corridor". The corridor of ANY Park is for the masses. YOU are NOT the masses. The rest of the Park is for YOU, and folks like you. And BTW, who says geography changes all of a sudden once OUTSIDE the Park? Almost always more to explore. Case in point...We are presently in Moab. Arches N.P. is at our doorstep. We were there again yesterday. But, as ASTOUNDINGLY BEAUTIFUL as it is INSIDE the Park, there is endless beauty, rocks, canyons, you name it, to be found FOREVER outside the Park and the other parks here. Quit whining, and keep doing what you're doing. That's what you were meant to do anyway. And BTW, great post.

  3. Great post Mark. And great capture of the owl!

  4. Oh my, wonderful pictures, that owl though! What a great shot! Thanks for sharing, you never disappoint!

  5. We found these back canyons on the east side of the park were the best place to explore alone. We spent the month of March there three years ago. The first week in the main canyon was no problem. But after that we spent our time anywhere but there. There are so many unnamed areas to explore with all the slickrock. Love the petroglyphs!! The owl is gorgeous!!!

  6. WOW just WOW! Thank you for sharing these stunning places...I can only hope to find such wonders on my next adventure!

  7. But Mark, I am surprised that one is allowed to walk off-trail in a National Park. It was not permitted at Arches NP and most certainly not at Yellowstone. I can feel sympathize with your disgust about the trampling hordes along the "main drag".

    1. actually, backcountry hiking is allowed in arches. we've camped near the "original entry" on blm land and hike into the west side all the time. of course we try to stay in washes or on slick rock to avoid the crypto soils. i don't think it's allowed in the "core" area tho.
      thanks, mark

  8. Mark,you have done it again, that which you are so good at and all of us are going to regret the day when you stop blogging .
    If you had to make this your last post it would serve the purpose I think. It had all the best of what your blog has always been. There has to be a great book in there somewhere.
    Form Sunny Sonoma Co @ 63ยบ

  9. Gorgeous photos Mark--especially that owl! Awesome!

  10. Put my name on the list of people who really appreciate what you do, Mark. Beautiful photos. Accompanied by
    thoughtfulness. Thanks.

  11. One of your better posts Mr Johnson. And I love that Owl, what a beauty he is!!!

  12. Awesome photos and thoughtful post. Thanks for taking us along- Mary Lou

  13. Wonderful. I'm so glad you took us along for a bit of it. Great photos! I'm curious...what is your favorite brand of hiking boots/shoes?

    1. Cursed with narrow, size 14 feet , a good fit is rare. I've had some relief with Keen... some Merrills models. The trick is, once you find a shoe that is a good fit... one you can hike in all day without blisters and hot spots... buy several pairs lest they be "discontinued."
      thanks mark

  14. Replies
    1. I thought you'd appreciate that title :). Thanks Wander Woman :)

  15. I have been pondering your earlier post about should you quit blogging, and my response to it, since it appeared. I gave a long response, but I'm still not sure I expressed what I really meant. I stopped because of the First Law of Holes: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Today I read a blog by someone I follow from another side of my interests, and he expresses it much better than I can. I agree totally with him. http://www.gocurrycracker.com/everyone-should-blog/ He makes some money from his blog, which I do not. That is just an area I decided not to pursue. As retirement continues I may change my mind about that. :)

  16. You can keep your snow and winter. I dream of the endless summer, with a little spring and fall thrown in. Fellow Rangers at Zion confirmed it's zooishness, and one won't ever return to work there again. It was crazy at the North Rim this summer with not enough parking and too many people. What to do? The upside, most visitors don't get off the beaten track to the "features" which leaves it for the rest of us. Enjoy your snow.

  17. Blogger is so aggravating. I keep thinking about moving to Wordpress, but have heard that they, too, have their quirks as well. Your photos still look as beautiful as ever on my screen. That is the most beautiful place in the country, I believe.

  18. Great wildlife shots, I'm eyeing the offshoots when I hike more often as well. I'll have to get all my off trail facts for each area lined up first though so wayne won't yell at me!


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